What Is a Urinalysis—and How Should You Prepare for One?

<p>Andrew Brookes / Getty Images</p>

Andrew Brookes / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Alexandra Dubinskaya, MD

Urinalysis is a simple common test that analyzes the specimens in your urine. The test detects changes in the appearance of your urine, its chemical composition, and the presence of abnormal substances that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

For the test, your healthcare provider will ask you for a sample of your urine. Once they collect a sample, they'll send it in for testing to the laboratory. The results of your urinalysis can help to screen or diagnose early signs of diseases, monitor previously diagnosed conditions, and evaluate the overall health of people.


Urinalysis is a common diagnostic screening test that healthcare providers use to analyze your overall health. The test itself is simple to perform and requires limited time and expertise. The results of your urine test can detect various diseases even before the symptoms start to show. Healthcare providers also look for changes in your urine color, concentration, and volume to check for signs of underlying health concerns.

Your provider may recommend a urinalysis for several reasons:

Parts of a Urine Test

Once you give a sample of your urine, your provider and/or lab technician will conduct three analyses to give you a holistic overview of your health. These three tests include:

  • Visual assessment: A visual assessment involves checking the urine for color and clarity. The normal color of urine can range from pale or light yellow to dark yellow. Underlying health conditions, certain foods, dehydration, internal injuries, infections, some medications, and diseases that affect the kidney, liver, and urinary tract can all cause cloudy urine and changes in your pee color.

  • Dipstick analysis: A dipstick analysis involves dipping a thin plastic strip into the urine. This strip is coated with chemicals that change color after coming in contact with specific substances. A dipstick analysis can show how acidic your urine is and detect the presence of substances like protein, glucose, bilirubin, white blood cells, ketones, or nitrites—which may be signs of an underlying infection.

  • Microscopic examination: The microscopic examination involves taking a look at the urine under the microscope to check for substances that are normally not present in the urine but are difficult to see with the naked eye. These may include red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria, or crystals.

How Does It Work?

Urinalysis is a simple test that doesn't usually involve any preparation. Your provider will ask you to urinate into a specimen container. Once you give them a sample of your urine, your provider will send the sample in for testing. Here's what you can expect before, during, and after the test.

Before the Test

Your urinalysis will take place at your healthcare provider’s clinic or a hospital. You do not need to fill out a questionnaire or undergo sedation for this test. The collection procedure takes a couple of minutes and you can leave immediately after you give a sample of your urine to your provider. Most providers recommend coming in for a urinalysis early in the morning when the urine is more concentrated and can easily test for substances.

During the Test

Healthcare providers often recommend the clean catch method for the collection of urine samples to minimize the possibility of your urine sample becoming contaminated. The clean catch method consists of the following steps:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water

  • Clean your urethra (pee hole) with a sterile wipe

  • Initially urinate into the toilet and do not collect it

  • Stop the urination midstream and continue peeing into the specimen container

  • Urinate in the container until it is about half full

  • Close the lid of the container

Once you collect your sample, hand the specimen container to your provider so they can send the sample in for testing.

After the Test

After your provider collects your urine, they will label your specimen container with your name or ID number on it and send it to a lab for testing. In most cases, a lab technician will examine your sample within an hour. If you collected your urine at home and can't bring in your sample within an hour, you can refrigerate the sample for up to 24 hours. But the specimens in your urine can't be tested after 24 hours, so it's best to give your sample to your provider as soon as possible.

You can leave immediately after giving a urine sample to your provider. Unlike some other medical testing procedures, there is no restriction on driving or carrying out other daily activities once the test is over.

Risks and Precautions

A urinalysis is a safe, low-risk, and non-invasive procedure. But getting a urine test may feel mildly uncomfortable. However, if you are unable to give a urine sample into a specimen container, your healthcare provider may take a sample of your urine using a catheter—a small tube that takes fluid out of your bladder through your urethra. Catheters can sometimes increase the risk of infections and cause injury.

How To Prepare

A urine test requires little to no preparation. In some cases, your provider may ask you to change into a hospital gown in case the test is taking place at a doctor's office or a clinic. You can eat and drink normally before the test. However, you may not want to drink excessive water as it can dilute the urine and interfere with the result. It's also a good idea to avoid eating foods that can change the color of your urine—like beets or blackberries.

If you are taking medications, tell your healthcare provider about your prescriptions before the test because some medications can change the color of your urine. These medicines include:

  • Aralen (chloroquine)

  • Macrobid (nitrofurantoin)

  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

  • Compazine (phenothiazine)

  • Azo Standard (phenazopyridine)

  • Maxzide (triamterene)

  • Dilantin (phenytoin)

  • Iron (ferrous sulfate)


The results of your urinalysis are usually available within a few hours to a few days. If your healthcare provider suspects any abnormalities in your urine test, they'll likely call you to schedule a follow-up appointment.

Because a urinalysis is made up of three types of tests, you'll notice different kinds of information when you get your results back from each test. Keep in mind: receiving an abnormal test result doesn't always mean you have an underlying medical issue. In such cases, your healthcare provider can ask for another urine test or order additional testing to learn what's causing your urinary changes. Here's how to interpret the results.

Visual Assessment

Changes in the color of your urine can be due to underlying health conditions, taking medications, eating certain foods, or dehydration. Your pee color can help your provider detect concerns with your health. The normal color of urine is a pale and transparent yellow. But if your urine color looks different, here's what that can mean:

Urine Color


Pink or red

Eating foods like blackberries or beets, menstrual blood, hemolytic anemia, a tumor in the kidney or bladder, urinary tract infection, or an internal injury

Dark brown

Severe dehydration, viral hepatitis, or liver cirrhosis

Green or blue

Urinary tract infections, eating foods that contain artificial colors, high bilirubin colors, and taking certain medications

Dark yellow or orange

Using laxatives, taking medications like warfarin or rifampin, dehydration, or high vitamin A or B12 levels

Certain health conditions can also cause your urine to become foamy, cloudy, or foul-smelling. This change can happen due to dehydration, diarrhea, diabetes, kidney stones, and urinary tract infections.

Dipstick Analysis

The dipstick analysis tells you information about the chemical composition of your urine. Any changes in the chemical composition of your urine may be indicative of certain diseases Some examples include:

Chemical Changes


Changes in pH levels

Kidney disease, dehydration, diabetes, diarrhea, or a high-protein diet

High protein levels

Early kidney disease

Excess glucose (blood sugar)

Diabetes or being on diabetes medication

Too much bilirubin

Bile duct infections or liver disease

Presence of nitrites

Urinary tract infections

Presence of ketones

Diabetes or dehydration

Presence of urobilinogen

Liver disease or hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells)

Microscopic Exam

Microscopic exams identify substances in your urine that cannot be seen with the naked eye. A few substances that are not generally present in urine and may be associated with certain diseases are:

  • Red blood cells

  • White blood cells

  • Urinary casts

  • Epithelial cells

  • Crystals of uric acid, cysteine, calcium oxalate, phosphates, and sulfur

  • Bacteria, fungi, or parasites

If your healthcare provider notices any of the above symptoms in your urine, they'll likely conduct further testing to understand the cause of these changes.

A Quick Review

A urinalysis is a simple urine test that can help you and your provider learn more about your overall health. This test can check for early signs of disease and monitor pre-existing health conditions. There are three parts of a urine test: visual assessment to identify changes in the appearance of your urine; dipstick analysis to check the chemical composition of your urine; and microscopic examination to analyze the presence of substances that you can't see with the naked eye.

Any changes in the normal color, appearance, volume, or chemical composition may be a sign of an underlying health condition. Keep in mind: abnormal results do not guarantee a medical issue. If your provider is concerned about your test results, they'll likely recommend additional testing to learn more about your health and confirm a diagnosis for a specific health condition.

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